This year Collective Copies, a worker-owned print shop in Western Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley, will have one more reason to celebrate May Day. May 1 not only marks its 31st anniversary but also the grand opening of its Off the Common Bookshop, which will share space with the printer’s Amherst store, located on the Amherst Common. There’s a second Collective Copies in Florence, Mass.
“I always wanted to have a bookstore,” said collective member Steve Strimer, who is creating space for the store from an area originally devoted to course packs. When the bookstore opens, it will only be selling books published by Collective Copies’s hybrid publishing program, Levellers Press—and its Hedgerow Books poetry imprint and Thornapple Books literary fiction imprint—and its Off the Common self-publishing program. Collective Copies already stocks some sidelines from other groups that share their concerns about sustainability, such as coffee and cocoa from Equal Exchange and Green Mountain Spinnery yarn.
For Strimer, Levellers and Collective Copies are following in a long tradition of publishers doing their own printing. The copy shop’s worker-owners launched the publishing program in 2009 at the request of customers. Robert Romer’s Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts was the very first book. Since then the list has grown to include short story collections like Linda McCullough Moore’s story collection, This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon (2011), which was recently named one of 11 under appreciated literary masterpieces by the Huffington Post, and John Jarvis’s recently released biography, Johnny Pail Face Becomes a Human Being, about a 97-year-old Native American born on a Navajo reservation.
Off the Common Bookshop could be the first bookstore to grow out of a publishing and self-publishing program. By the fall, Levellers will have published 50 books; Off the Common has released another 60. Some books are also available at the Collective Copies store in Florence as well as through its online store.
Part of what enabled Collective Copies to begin publishing is changes in technology, including the introduction of the Xerox Docucolor, which prints up to a 13 X 19’ sheet with one service click. Levellers, which handles its own distribution, typically prints between 150 and 300 copies of a new title for its initial print run. Going back to press means print-on-demand runs of between 25 and 50 copies. The press recoups its printing costs from the author, usually within the first 150 copies, and then splits the profits 50/50, according to Strimer.
Although Collective Copies’s books are not available to the trade through a distributor or national wholesaler because of the expense, Strimer says that they are considering printing one of their older titles with Lightning Source or IngramSpark. He thinks the arrangement could work for shorter books, between 200 and 300 pages, that have been out for two or more years.